It’s Christmas night. The last package has been opened, the last dessert eaten and the dishwasher packed. Cup of tea in hand, my mind goes back to Day No. 8 of what I now refer to as my Advent Jury Service.
We jurors are by now on a first name basis. Personalities are beginning to show and personal stories are shared.
- Juror No. 2 is the Joker, the cross country biker who makes all of us laugh. Juror No. 5, who sits beside me, is an EMT who reminds us to buckle up, not to injest too much ibuprofen and never to bring our work home with us. He recommends we all see “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol.”
- Juror No. 6 is the twentysomething manager of a golf pro shop. He has an ever changing list of “me and my buddy” adventure stories.
- Juror 11, a chemistry teacher, carries a big satchel filled with papers he grades whenever he gets a moment.
Juror 9 is the one who gets my attention.
He sits directly in front of me in the box, the outline of an oddly shaped scar just visible beneath his buzz cut. He speaks rarely. When he does, his speech is slightly thick, but his mind is sharp. He’s built like a professional baseball player; the only thing missing is the uniform and a wad of Red Man in his cheek. No surprise that he is a coach.
When conversations turn to accidents and survival, Juror 9 starts to say something about a life-altering event just as the bailiff summons us back to court. We return from a recess and I ask if he would share what he’d meant to say earlier.
Turns out, in high school, he was well on his way to becoming the pro baseball player he resembles. He was being recruited to play in college; he had offers.
All that ended with a knee-to-the-head collision with a fellow player that left his skull cracked and his brain permanently damaged. Everything changed. Suddenly, an easy run to class became a grueling 15-minute walk. Without meds, even today, he risks seizures.
“That’s when I found out who my friends really were,” he said.
Most shunned him because he was “different.” He eventually left his home state to start again. He tells his students that most of the people they know are just acquaintances; if they have three friends in all of life they will be lucky.
We are all quiet after that. For a moment, the trial in Wake County Superior Courtroom 10B fades in importance. It’s about money. Life comes down to relationships.
On Day 9, we rendered a verdict and went our separate ways to meet holiday visitors at airports, finish trimming trees and otherwise make merry at Christmas. Juror No. 9’s story seems a fitting part of the season. Like that juror, we Christians aren’t what we used to be. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.
The change doesn’t always set well with former friends; and sometimes we have to start fresh. But we don’t do it alone.
In Christ, whose birth we celebrate at this season, we have a lasting friend. The God who reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is indeed “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Through every day, every circumstance, whether tragedy or triumph: Immanuel, God is with us. That, beloved, is Christmas every day of the year!